Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Australia, New Zealand worried over China deal with Solomons

Canberra, Australia ( Associated Press) – Australian and New Zealand prime ministers on Monday expressed concern about the prospect of a Chinese military presence on the Solomon Islands.

A document leaked last week There are indications that China may increase its military presence in the South Pacific island nation, including visiting ships.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had spoken to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about the development over the weekend and planned to speak to her counterparts in Papua New Guinea and Fiji on Monday.

“The reports we have seen are not surprising to us and are a reminder of the continued pressure and threats to our own national security in our region,” Morrison told reporters.

“It is a matter of concern for the sector but it is not surprising. We have known these pressures for a long time.”

Ardern described the possibility of Chinese military forces being deployed on Solomon as “gravely concerning”.

“We view such acts as a possible militarization of the region,” she told Radio NZ. “We see little reason in the context of Pacific security for such a need and such a presence,” she said.

Ardern urged Solomon’s leaders to “look no further than our own Pacific family” when considering the country’s security ties.

Solomon revealed on Thursday that he had signed a police cooperation agreement with China. But there was draft text of a more comprehensive security system about Solomon’s neighbors that leaked online.

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Under the terms of the draft agreement, China could send police, military personnel and other armed forces to Solomon “to help maintain social order” and for a variety of other reasons. It can also send ships to islands for stopovers and to replenish supplies.

The draft agreement states that China will be required to sign off on any information released about the joint security arrangement, including media briefings.

When asked about the agreement last week, China’s foreign ministry said Beijing and Solomon “conducted normal law enforcement and security cooperation on the basis of equal treatment and win-win cooperation.”

It was not immediately clear when the security agreement could be finalized, signed or taken into effect.

Solomon, home to nearly 700,000 people, switched his diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019, a contributing factor to the riots in November.,

Australian police have since maintained peace in the capital Honiara under a bilateral security treaty established in 2017. It provides a legal basis for the rapid deployment of Australian police, troops and concerned citizens in the event of a major security challenge.

In 2017, when Australian police and troops left the Solomons after 14 years, the two countries signed a bilateral treaty that would enable Australians to return at short notice at the invitation of the Prime Minister of the Solomons. That treaty was put into effect in November and Australian police were on the air within hours of Solomon’s Prime Minister Manasseh Sogaware requesting help.

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Australia led a contingent of Pacific Islander police and troops as part of a regional aid mission to the Solomon Islands from 2003 to 2017. It included 2,300 police and soldiers from 17 countries invited by the Solomon government. The deployment successfully ended the conflict in which 200 people were killed.

Solomon’s opposition leader Matthew Valle said he warned Australian High Commissioner Lachlan Strahan in August last year that the government was negotiating a security deal with Beijing that could lead to Chinese bases there.

“Personally I am very disappointed in this matter in Australia,” Vale told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“I think Australia saw it coming and if it didn’t, it should have happened,” Valle said.

Morrison said Australia was restarting its foreign aid to focus on the Pacific.

“We are aware of the risks across the Pacific,” Morrison said, referring to the Chinese engagement.

In 2018, Australian Senator Concetta Firavanti-Wells, then Minister for International Development and the Pacific, said that Chinese aid programs in poor Pacific island countries were creating “white elephants”, threatening economic stability without providing benefits. Beijing resisted his criticism.

The Pacific’s traditional aid partners – the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand – have stepped up efforts to offer alternatives to China’s Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure partnership.

Nation World News Desk
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